What Does Two Spirit Mean?
The term “Two Spirit” is a modern, pan-Indian, umbrella term used by some Indigenous peoples to describe those who fulfill a third gender ceremonial and social role in their cultures. Two Spirit was widely adopted in the 1990s to encompass the various non-binary gender identities and expressions among Indigenous peoples today. Its abbreviation is 2S as seen in LGBTQ2S+.
Although oral traditions and historic documentation of non-binary people exist, attempts at forced assimilation throughout settler-colonial history caused the erasure of many traditional Indigenous language terms for Two Spirit peoples in various tribes. Some words that remain in use by different Tribal Nations today include Łamana, “two spirit person” (Zuni); Nádleehí, “those who transform” (Diné); ikwekaazo/ininiikaazo, “one who endeavors to be like a woman”/“one who endeavors to be like a man” (Ojibwe), Asegi udanto, “strange heart” (Cherokee); and Winkte, “to be as a woman” (Lakota).
We stand with queer and Two Spirit Indigenous peoples and support the revitalization of their cultural traditions.
Resources for further support
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services LGBTQ2S Resources
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created a comprehensive list of national and local organizations that provide support to LGBTQ2S+ people, as well as a brief primer on two spirit identities.
Working with Two-Spirit and Native LGBTQ Youth
The Capacity Building Center for Tribes works to design and deliver culturally informed tools and resources for Tribal child welfare professionals, including this guide to working with LGBTQ2S+ youth.
For 28 years, Seacoast Outright has been one of the only resources available to LGBTQ+ youth in the Seacoast New Hampshire area. Through educational programs, annual Pride celebrations, and youth support groups, their mission has always been to create a safe space for youth to explore the topics of gender and sexuality in a welcoming and understanding environment.
NorthEast Two Spirit Society (NE2SS)
An archive of events and blog posts from 2004-2009 of NE2SS with links to their publication, Two-Spirit Times.
Two Spirit LGBTQ
A resource page from the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board maintains a list of resources for Two Spirit people, including how to find a medical care provider, community centers, and links to legal resources, including the Tribal Equity Toolkit.
American Indian/Alaskan Native Youth Suicide Risk – The Trevor Project
The national Trevor Project organization has published research on risks to LGBTQ2S+ Tribal youth, finding that “The compounding effects of discrimination indicate that AI/AN youth who are Two-Spirit/LGBTQ are also placed at greater risk for suicide by exposure to both LGBTQ-based stigma and racism.”
Resources for further education
Celebrating the Late We:wa
Google created a Doodle in 2021 featuring We:wa, a famous Zuni (A:shiwi) Native American fiber artist, weaver, and potter who lived in the 19th century. This informational page includes a game and a video.
Two-Spirit | Cultural Anthropology
Chapter 10 of an open source anthropology textbook online explores the history of the two spirit terminology, previous terminology used by queer Indigenous peoples and anthropologists, and touches on the various important roles of two spirit peoples among diverse Tribal Nations.
Evoking Two Spirit Experience Onscreen
A 2018 event at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco featured a list of short films created by Two Spirit filmmakers
Two Spirit: The Story of a Movement Unfolds by Zachary Pullin
This article, originally published in Native People’s Magazine, explores the history of the two spirit movement from the modern perspective of a Native LGBTQ person.
12 Queer or 2 Spirit Artists to Celebrate on National Indigenous People’s Day
Yohomo, a queer publication from Toronto, Canada, published a round up of visual and performing artists to explore.
Fiction and Poetry
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead (2018)
A tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reserve. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”—and his former life—to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages—and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.
Love after the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction edited by Joshua Whitehead (2020)
This exciting and groundbreaking fiction anthology showcases a number of new and emerging 2SQ (Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous) writers from across Turtle Island. These visionary authors show how queer Indigenous communities can bloom and thrive through utopian narratives that detail the vivacity and strength of 2SQness throughout its plight in the maw of settler colonialism’s histories.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (2020)
A magical YA story that blends genres. Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream. There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.
A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (2021)
Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories. Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake. Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries. And there are some who will kill to keep them apart. A Snake Falls to Earth is a breathtaking work of Indigenous futurism. Darcie Little Badger draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling structure to weave another unforgettable tale of monsters, magic, and family. It is not to be missed.
She Walks for Days Inside A Thousand Eyes (A Two Spirit Story) by Sharron Proulx-Turner (2008)
In she walks for days inside a thousand eyes (a two spirit story), Sharron Proulx-Turner combines poetry and history to delve into the little-known lives of two-spirit women. she walks for days inside a thousand eye (a two-spirit story) creatively juxtaposes first-person narratives and traditional stories with the voices of contemporary two-spirit women, voices taken from nature, and the teachings of Water, Air, Fire and Mother Earth. The author restores the reputation of two-spirit woman that had been long under attack from Western culture as she re-appropriates the lives of these individuals from the writings of Western anthropologists and missionaries.
Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Daniel Heath Justice, Lisa Tatonetti, and Deborah Miranda (2011)
This landmark collection strives to reflect the complexity of identities within Native Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (GLBTQ2) communities. Gathering together the work of established writers and talented new voices, this anthology spans genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essay) and themes (memory, history, sexuality, indigeneity, friendship, family, love, and loss) and represents a watershed moment in Native American and Indigenous literatures, Queer studies, and the intersections between the two.
Living the Spirit: A Gay American Indian Anthology, edited by Will Roscoe (1988)
A groundbreaking collection of essays and stories by, about, and selected by gay American Indians from over twenty North American tribes. Living the Spirit honors the past and present life of gay American Indians. This book is not just about gay American Indians, it is by gay Indians. Over twenty different American Indian writers, men and women, represent tribes from every part of North America. Living the Spirit tells our story—the story of our history and traditions, as well as the realities and challenges of the present.
Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory by Qwo-Li Driskill (2016)
In Cherokee Asegi udanto refers to people who either fall outside of men’s and women’s roles or who mix men’s and women’s roles. Asegi, which translates as “strange,” is also used by some Cherokees as a term similar to “queer.” For author Qwo-Li Driskill, asegi provides a means by which to reread Cherokee history in order to listen for those stories rendered “strange” by colonial heteropatriarchy. As the first full-length work of scholarship to develop a tribally specific Indigenous Queer or Two-Spirit critique, Asegi Stories examines gender and sexuality in Cherokee cultural memory, how they shape the present, and how they can influence the future.
Spaces Between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization by Scott Lauria Morgensen (2011)
Explaining how relational distinctions of “Native” and “settler” define the status of being “queer,” Spaces between Us argues that modern queer subjects emerged among Natives and non-Natives by engaging the meaningful difference indigeneity makes within a settler society. Scott Lauria Morgensen demonstrates the interdependence of nation, race, gender, and sexuality and offers opportunities for resistance in the U.S.
Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country by Brian Joseph Gilley (2006)
The Two-Spirit man occupies a singular place in Native American culture, balancing the male and the female spirit even as he tries to blend gay and Native identity. The accompanying ambiguities of gender and culture come into vivid relief in the powerful and poignant Becoming Two-Spirit , the first book to take an in-depth look at contemporary American Indian gender diversity. Drawing on a wealth of observations from interviews, oral histories, and meetings and ceremonies, Brian Joseph Gilley provides an intimate view of how Two-Spirit men in Colorado and Oklahoma struggle to redefine themselves and their communities.
Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang (1997)
This landmark book combines the voices of Native Americans and non-Indians, anthropologists and others, in an exploration of gender and sexuality issues as they relate to lesbian, gay, transgendered, and other “marked” Native Americans. Focusing on the concept of two-spirit people—individuals not necessarily gay or lesbian, transvestite or bisexual, but whose behaviors or beliefs may sometimes be interpreted by others as uncharacteristic of their sex—this book is the first to provide an intimate look at how many two-spirit people feel about themselves, how other Native Americans treat them, and how anthropologists and other scholars interpret them and their cultures. 1997 Winner of the Ruth Benedict Prize for an edited book given by the Society of Lesbian and Gay Anthropologists.
Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda (2012)
This beautiful and devastating book—part tribal history, part lyric and intimate memoir—should be required reading for anyone seeking to learn about California Indian history, past and present. Deborah A. Miranda tells stories of her Ohlone Costanoan Esselen family as well as the experience of California Indians as a whole through oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems. The result is a work of literary art that is wise, angry, and playful all at once, a compilation that will break your heart and teach you to see the world anew.
nîtisânak by Jas M. Morgan (2019)
Jas M. Morgan’s nîtisânak honours blood and chosen kin with equal care. A groundbreaking memoir spanning nations, prairie punk scenes, and queer love stories, it is woven around grief over the loss of their mother. It also explores despair and healing through community and family, and being torn apart by the same. Using cyclical narrative techniques and drawing on their Cree, Saulteaux, and Métis ancestral teachings, this work offers a compelling perspective on the connections that must be broken and the ones that heal.
One Bead at a Time by Beverly Little Thunder (2016)
One Bead at a Time is the oral memoir of Beverly Little Thunder, a two-spirit Lakota Elder from Standing Rock, who has lived most of her life in service to Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in vast areas of both the United States and Canada. Transcribed and edited by two-spirit Métis writer Sharron Proulx-Turner, Little Thunder’s narrative is told verbatim, her melodious voice and keen sense of humour almost audible overtop of the text on the page.
A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of A Lesbian Objibwa-Cree Elder by Ma-Nee Chacaby (2016)
A Two-Spirit Journey is Ma-Nee Chacaby’s extraordinary account of her life as an Ojibwa-Cree lesbian. From her early, often harrowing memories of life and abuse in a remote Ojibwa community riven by poverty and alcoholism, Chacaby’s story is one of enduring and ultimately overcoming the social, economic and health legacies of colonialism.